The Baker Upstairs: November 2012


mexican hot chocolate and pie crust cookies


I know a lot of families have awesome holiday recipes that have been passed down through the generations, but I don't really have any of those. I'm trying to develop some of my own, so that one day my great grandchildren will look at a recipe card with my handwriting and get all sentimental. Here's hoping! One of my favorite new holiday traditions is making this delicious Mexican hot chocolate. It tastes just like Christmas to me! I like that it's mild and not overly sweet, but still has an intricate combination of flavors. It's also fantastic for dipping various baked goods in, but I think I like it best with these cinnamon-sugar pie crust cookies. They're delicate and just lightly sweetened, and totally tasty. This combo is going to be making frequent appearances at our house during the holiday season! Be sure to check back in tomorrow, when twelve awesome bloggers will be sharing their favorite holiday foods in honor of the 12 Days of Christmas!
Mexican Hot Chocolate

1 tablet Abuelita or Ibarra brand chocolate (find it in the Mexican section of your grocery store; I also found a big box at Costco recently. If all else fails, find it on Amazon.)
4 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Using a sharp knife, chop the chocolate into small chunks. Whisk together all ingredients in a small saucepan, and heat over medium heat while whisking frequently until chocolate has melted and the mixture is well blended. Pour into mugs and enjoy!

Pie Crust Cookies
inspired by Lulu the Baker

pie pastry:
1 1/2 cups flour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 stick butter, cold, cut into smaller pieces
8 ounces cream cheese, cold, cut into smaller pieces

cinnamon sugar topping:
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 350. In the bowl of a food processor or a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Using the food processor or a pastry blender, blend in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add cream cheese and pulse until dispersed throughout. Dump mixture onto a baking mat or clean countertop, and press into a round disc. Roll out to 1/4 inch thick, and use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Combine ingredients for sugar topping, then sprinkle over cut out shapes. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.


lemon & garlic chicken skillet


Oh my gosh, this dinner. It is soooo good! Not only that, but it has so many things going for it... healthy: check! quick and easy: check! delicious beyond belief: check! I honestly can't remember the last time I loved my dinner quite so much. I might just have loved it so much that I ate the leftovers for breakfast, while Geoff (the "traditional" breakfaster) looked on in horror. Trust me, it was worth the strange looks.

I got this recipe from my friend Meg's blog, and I love the way she phrased it. I, however, am way more perfectionistic and control-freak-ish than she apparently is, so I'm going to write out the recipe in a more typical way. But feel free to customize/improvise as much as your heart desires! You really can't go wrong.
Lemon & Garlic Chicken Skillet
adapted from Big Red Clifford

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into chunks
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
3-4 red potatoes, cut into chunks
1 small onion, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chicken stock
juice of two lemons

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken breast and garlic, and cook until chicken is browned. Remove chicken to a plate. Add the other tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet, then add the potatoes and onion, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until onions are slightly caramelized. Add chicken stock and lemon juice, and let cook for a few minutes until hot. Add chicken and accumulated juices, cover, and let cook 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Remove cover and increase the heat to medium high to cook off the excess cooking liquid, and brown the chicken and potatoes. Serve hot and sprinkle with parsley, if desired.


sweet cowboy cornbread


It's amazing how many different ways there are to make cornbread. Seriously. There's cake mix cornbread, bisquick cornbread, dry and crumbly cornbread, moist and caky cornbread... so many different variations and tastes and textures. After a fair amount of experimentation, I have discovered that I like mine slightly sweet (not cake mix sweet!) and moist. I also like a recipe that's easy and quick, and doesn't use any unusual ingredients. This recipe fits the bill perfectly! It also works great as muffins or as a larger cake. I baked mine in a 9 inch round cake pan this time, then cut it into wedges and drizzled them with honey. Delicious!
Sweet Cowboy Cornbread
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

½ cup cornmeal
1 ½ cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 ¼ cup milk

Preheat the oven to 375. Lightly grease a 9x9 pan or a 12-cup muffin tin and set aside. Combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center and add the oil, beaten eggs and milk. Whisk together until just moistened and no dry spots remain. Bake for 40-45 minutes (or 20-25 minutes for muffins), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Let stand a few minutes before serving.


jalapeño popper pinwheels


This year for Thanksgiving, my sister in law asked me to bring some stuffing, a dessert, and an appetizer. I already had an awesome-looking recipe to try for the stuffing (I'll post it later this week!), and of course I was excited for any excuse to make carmelitas again, so the only thing left up in the air was the appetizer. I wanted something easy and quick, since I knew I had to prep everything the day before, and found the perfect recipe on my friend Sarah's darling blog. I brought them to the party, and they were the first thing to go! In general, I'm all about making everything from scratch, and using whole foods, but sometimes (like once a year, for Thanksgiving) you've just gotta pop open that exploding can of crescent roll goodness. Trust me, you won't regret it!
Jalapeño Popper Pinwheels
High Heels & Grills

1 (8oz.) block of cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup minced jalapeños (I used bottled "tamed" jalapeños from the pickle/olive section)
1 tube of regular crescent rolls

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a cookie sheet. In a small bowl, combine cream cheese and jalapeños - mix well and set aside. Open your crescent rolls (do not separate them) and lay them on the counter. Separate long ways on the perforation, so you have two long sheets of crescent rolls with 4 rolls each in them. Pinch the remaining perforations together on each of the two sheets (use a rolling pin if necessary) to make two continuous crescent roll sheets.

Divide the cream cheese mixture and spread evenly over both crescent sheets. Roll them up from the short end, to make a long cream cheese/crescent roll - do this for both crescents. Cut each cream cheese/crescent roll into 12 pieces. Place each one, standing up, on your cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 11-13 minutes.


pancake mini-muffins


I hope everyone had an awesome Thanksgiving weekend! We celebrated by doing... absolutely nothing! It was great! We went to sleep early, slept in late (well, if 7:30 am counts as late...), and watched some of our favorite TV shows and movies. We also did an awesome deep cleaning of our house, and now everything feels much more refreshing. We're planning a really low-key Christmas this year, so we didn't even hit up any Black Friday sales. It was nice to just have time as a family to relax and cuddle and play.

One of my favorite things about weekends and days off is that we get to have breakfast together! On work days, Geoff leaves around 6:45, so we don't usually have much time for breakfast. It's nice when things are a little slower-paced and we can cook together. We made these tasty pancake mini-muffins over the weekend, and they were a hit with everyone! I think Lizzy shotgunned four of them within the course of about five minutes. The great thing about this recipe is that it's infinitely customizable... you can add pretty much anything you can think of! Blueberries, chocolate chips, grated apple... even cheese and chives would be yummy! They made for a nice break from our typical pancakes.
Pancake Mini-Muffins
It Bakes Me Happy

1 1/2 c flour
1 c buttermilk
2 eggs, extra large
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs oil
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 350º and prepare a 24 cup mini muffin pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add the buttermilk, oil and eggs and mix until a lumpy batter forms. Spoon 1 Tbs of batter in each well of the muffin pan and bake for 13-15 minutes, until slightly golden and a tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven cool in the pan 5 minutes and serve warm.


thai chicken stir fry and coconut rice


I feel like during the holiday season I'm constantly vacillating between cooking quick, healthy dinners, and luxurious desserts. It all balances out, right? This is a perfect dinner for one of those busy nights in December when there are a million things on the to-do list. It's tasty, generally healthy, and adds some lovely color to the usual boring winter palette. I would suggest prepping everything before you even start heating the wok/pan, and then it all comes together super quickly. And don't be like me and forget to start the rice, and then have to wait 20 minutes after the chicken is done. I used chicken breast instead of thighs and it was perfect! And seriously, the combination with the coconut rice was just plain amazing. Yum!
Thai Chicken Stir Fry
Annie's Eats

1 bunch scallions
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 ½ tbsp. finely chopped peeled fresh ginger (or 1 ½ tsp. dried)
¼ tsp. roasted red pepper flakes
¾ cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 ½ tbsp. soy sauce
1 ½ tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. sugar
½ cup salted roasted whole cashews
cooked white or brown rice for serving

Chop scallions, separating white and green parts. Pat chicken dry, then cut into ¾ -inch pieces and toss with salt and pepper. Heat a wok or 12-inch heavy skillet (not nonstick) over moderately high heat until a drop of water evaporates immediately. Add oil, swirling to coat, then stir-fry chicken until golden in places and just cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon. Add bell pepper, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes and scallion whites to wok and stir-fry until peppers are just tender, 5 to 6 minutes.

Stir together broth, soy sauce, cornstarch and sugar, then stir the mixture into the vegetables in the wok. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in cashews, scallion greens and chicken along with any juices accumulated on plate. Serve with rice.

Coconut Rice
Our Best Bites

2 c. white or Jasmine rice
1 can coconut milk
2 c. water
1 tsp. Kosher salt
Splash of white vinegar (optional, but it helps with the texture)
2-3 tsp. white sugar
Handful of chopped green onions, plus chopped green onion tops for garnish (we’re using the whole animal here…)
Black pepper to taste

Combine rice, coconut milk, water, salt, vinegar, and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil Turn heat to low and cover for 20 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Allow to stand 5 minutes. Add green onions, black pepper (if desired), and additional salt if necessary.


happy thanksgiving!


I hope everyone has a wonderful day! I'll be spending it with the people I love most. I'm so grateful for my beautiful little family, whom I love so dearly. I'm running a 10k in the morning with my sister, then getting together for lots of food with both of our families. Hope your day is peaceful and filled with the things you love!


southwest chicken pot pie


One of the problems with being a foodie blogger is that I always want to make everything from scratch, and sometimes my family wishes we could just buy some processed foods instead. Such was the case a week or two ago, when I caught Geoff staring longingly at the frozen pot pies at Costco. I reminded him how high in fat, calories, and sodium they are, not to mention how many weird ingredients they have, and he reluctantly agreed we could leave them in the freezer section... for now. I then made it my mission to come up with a homemade version that he would like just as well. And on a whim, I decided to give it a little southwest twist, since Geoff absolutely loves cumin. The result was a delicious bowl of comfort food that even my littles ate up happily. And Geoff? I'm pretty sure I heard him mumble something like, "I'm a lucky man" under his breath. Southwest chicken pot pie for the win!
Southwest Chicken Pot Pie

4 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup flour
1 cup chicken broth (or 1 cup water and 1 tsp chicken base)
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 1/2 cups baby carrots, sliced and steamed (I did mine in the microwave)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn
1-2 cups chopped cooked chicken (I used leftovers from another meal)
1 pie crust (you could use store bought; I made my own using this recipe)

Preheat oven to 350. Melt butter in a large sauce pan over medium high heat. Add onion and cook until translucent and softened. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 60 seconds. Add flour and whisk together to make a roux. Slowly add chicken broth and milk while continuing to whisk; cook until sauce has thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste, as well as chili powder and cumin. Stir in carrots, black beans, corn, and chicken, and cook until heated through. Add mixture to your container of choice (I used a 9 inch round casserole dish) and top with pie crust. Be sure to cut holes in the top so that the filling can vent. Shape pie crust as desired (I like to crimp the edges with my fingers), then bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned. Serve with sour cream and salsa, if desired.


quick and easy dinner rolls


It's no secret that I love bread! I don't even mind complicated recipes that take hours to make (for example, these baguettes). But sometimes it's nice to find a quick recipe that still tastes just as good as a more complicated recipe, and these rolls are it! Unlike most rolls I've made with a single rise, these are super light. They're crisp and chewy on the outside and soft on the inside. And because they only take about an hour to make, they're perfect for a weeknight dinner. This recipe is great for beginners, or people who don't feel comfortable working with yeast, because the dough is very forgiving. It's pretty hard to mess these up!
Quick and Easy Dinner Rolls
adapted from High Heels & Grills

1-1/2 cups hot water {as hot as you can get it out of the tap.}
1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. salt
3-1/2 to 4 cups flour

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large mixing bowl, mix together water, yeast, and sugar; let stand until frothy, about 5 minutes. Add the oil, salt, and 2 cups of flour, and mix until well combined. Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough has pulled away from the sides of the bowl and is no longer sticky. Continue to knead the dough until elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover with a damp cloth; let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (this usually takes less than an hour for me). After doubled, punch down dough and lay on floured surface.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Divide dough into 12 equal-sized pieces, then divide each of those pieces into 3 equal-sized pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, and add 3 balls to each well of a muffin tin sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

P.S. If you're looking for an even more amazing roll experience, try them the way Sarah suggests, topped with honey butter. They are out of this world!


pumpkin cream cheese blondies


So... my best friend Cortney is pretty much the greatest person ever. She's the only person I've ever met who feels the same way I do about baking. If I have a love language, it is definitely baking. It's the way I express all of my emotions... happy, sad, bored, worried, frustrated. Everything is better when I bake something! Cortney and I communicate a lot of the time by discussing our latest baked goods in detail... and our husbands think we're totally crazy. And maybe we are. But in any case, sometimes by collaborating, we come up with something amazing. Such was the case with these blondies!

Cortney has been making cream cheese blondies for ages, and they are super yummy. So when she said she wanted to try a pumpkin version, I was totally psyched! We discussed a couple of different strategies, and eventually she came up with these. I had originally planned to just take pictures of the blondies she brought me when she succeeded, but they mysteriously disappeared before I could do so (I think it's her fault for making them so delicious and irresistible). The only solution was to make my own batch so I could take pictures. They turned out so good! Definitely a new family favorite!
Pumpkin Cream Cheese Blondies
from my best friend Cortney, adapted from Martha Stewart

9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the pumpkin cream cheese swirl:

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar
6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, allowing a 2-inch overhang. Spray with cooking spray; set pan aside.

Whisk together 1 2/3 cups flour, the baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl, and set aside. Put 9 tablespoons butter and the brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla; mix until combined. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, mix, scraping down sides of bowl, until well combined. Transfer to baking pan, using an offset spatula to smooth the top.

Put 2 tablespoons butter, 1/4 cup sugar, cream cheese, pumpkin puree, egg, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 3 tablespoons flour, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice into the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat on medium speed until just smooth.

Pour half the blondie batter into prepared pan, and spread evenly with an offset spatula. Spoon two-thirds of cream-cheese mixture on top, and spread evenly. Drop dollops of remaining batter on top (spacing about 1 inch apart), and spread. Top with remaining cream-cheese mixture. If desired, sprinkle with a little cinnamon sugar.

Gently swirl cream cheese mixture into batter with a butter knife, running the knife lengthwise and crosswise through layers. (It may be weird and sort of lumpy looking, but don't worry! All will be well!) Bake until golden brown and a cake tester inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs but is not wet, 45 to 47 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into squares. Blondies can be stored between layers of parchment in an airtight container at room temperature up to 2 days.


cheesy zucchini pizza casserole


I saw this recipe a few weeks ago and it totally piqued my interest, but I was a little skeptical of it. I mean... a zucchini crust topped with pizza toppings? It smelled amazing while it was baking, but it wasn't until I actually took my first bite that I was convinced. This recipe is a keeper! It's low carb, for those who are concerned about that (I'm certainly not), and has plenty of vegetables. At the same time, it's deliciously cheesy and gooey and pizza-y! We topped ours with homemade pizza sauce (using this recipe), chopped onions, artichoke hearts, olives, and pepperoni, and it was fantastic! I think the triumph of my day (or maybe week? year?) was that Abby ate her entire piece of casserole, vegetables and all. She even mumbled something about "yummy" while she was putting it into her mouth. If that's not the mark of a good recipe, then I don't know what is!
Cheesy Zucchini Pizza Casserole
Lauren's Latest

4 cups grated zucchini
1/2 teaspoon salt + pepper, to taste
2 eggs
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese, divided
2 cups grated cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup pizza sauce
any desired pizza toppings: pepperoni, sausage crumbles, olives, peppers, onions, etc.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 9×13 glass dish with non stick cooking spray and set aside.

Grate zucchini and measure out 4 cups. Sprinkle salt over zucchini and let sit for 10 minutes. Ring out zucchini to remove any excess water and mix together with pepper, eggs, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, 1 cup cheddar cheese and parmesan cheese. Stir to combine and spread evenly into prepared baking dish. Bake 20 minutes. Remove from oven and top with pizza sauce, remaining cheeses and any desired pizza toppings. Bake 15 more minutes and remove. Cool 5 minutes before cutting and serving.


peanut butter bars


So every time these bars get talked about, someone mentions that they had them in their school lunch when they were a kid. And I want to ask, which school did you go to? My school never seemed to have anything nearly as good as these peanut butter bars... I just remember a lot of bland gravy over mashed potatoes and rolls with lard dripping off them. I was first introduced to these by my sister in law Jill, who used to make them for family parties, and I totally fell in love! I had forgotten about them for a while, and then I saw this recipe on Chef in Training and couldn't stop thinking about them. I halved the recipe, because heaven knows I don't need to eat a full size batch of these babies, and it was perfect in a 9 x 13 pan. I love the perfect mixture of chewy oats and peanut butter with creamy chocolate frosting... so good! I have to confess, I actually like these better the next day... I think the frosting tastes better after it has hardened a little. Either way, make them!
Peanut Butter Bars
Chef in Training

1 cup butter softened
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups old fashioned oats


1/3 cup butter softened
2 Tbsp. cocoa
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup warm milk

Cream butter and sugars together in a large bowl. Beat in eggs, vanilla and peanut butter.
Mix in flour, baking soda and salt. Then mix in the oats. Spread dough into a greased jelly roll pan. Press down so entire pan is evenly covered. Bake at 325 degrees F for 20 minutes. If will appear to still be a little soft when it comes out. Let cool completely.

For the frosting: Beat butter, cocoa, salt and vanilla together. Add in powdered sugar and warm milk and beat until smooth. Spread evenly over rolled peanut butter bars.


cheesy cauliflower soup


I don't know what it is about me and cauliflower soup, but I can't get enough of it! I posted about it before here, but I think this recipe is my new favorite! I know the picture makes it look a little blah, but really it's a comforting bowl of cheesy, creamy goodness. And because of all the cauliflower, it feels like it must be really healthy! (Don't burst my bubble by mentioning all the cheese in it...)
Cauliflower Soup
Chef in Training

3 Tbsp. butter
1 medium onion chopped
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup half and half
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups water
1 (14.5 oz) can chicken broth
2.5 lbs cauliflower
1 tsp. Dijon Mustard
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup pepper jack cheese, shredded

Melt butter and chopped onion together in a large sauce pan and sauté for approximately 10 minutes over medium heat until onion gets golden in color. Add flour and stir to make a roux. Heat while stirring for a couple of minutes. Slowly add half and half and milk, stirring the entire time. Following the milk, gradually add water and chicken broth and stir constantly.

Add chopped cauliflower and heat until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until cauliflower is tender, about 15 minutes. Place contents of sauce pan into blender and blend until smooth. (Remove center part of blender cover to allow steam to escape.) Return cauliflower mixture to saucepan; heat over medium heat until hot, stirring occasionally. Remove saucepan from heat; stir in mustard and cheese until melted and smooth.


chocolate covered pretzel peanut butter brownies


Oh, these brownies. I saw them on Pinterest and couldn't stop thinking about them! Lately I'm loving the salty-sweet-crunchiness that comes with adding pretzels to baked goods. And I think saucepan brownies are the bee's knees. Geoff is such a peanut butter fan that he would probably eat cardboard if I smothered it in peanut butter frosting, so of course he was a fan! These are so decadent that a small piece is definitely sufficient, but every bite is a wonderful mixture of flavor and texture. I used semi-sweet chocolate chips in both the brownies and the chocolate pretzels, and it worked great! I also used a 9 x 9 pan instead of an 11 x 7, and increased the baking time to about 40 minutes.
Chocolate Covered Pretzel Peanut Butter Brownies
Sally's Baking Addiction


1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter
8 ounces coarsely chopped bittersweet (or semi-sweet) chocolate
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Peanut Butter Frosting Layer

1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 – 2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Easy Chocolate Covered Pretzels (or use store-bought chocolate covered pretzels)

25 mini pretzel twists
2 oz semisweet chocolate

Make the chocolate covered pretzels first.  In a medium bowl, break up and melt the 2 oz of chocolate in the microwave for 30 seconds.  Stir. Continue microwaving  in 10 second intervals until completely melted.  Toss the pretzels into the melted chocolate and stir around until they are mostly coated.  They don’t have to look perfect because you will break them up any way.  Chill the pretzels while you make the brownies.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 11 x 7 inch baking pan (or 13 x 9 inch baking pan for thinner brownies) with cooking spray. Set aside. Melt butter and semi-sweet chocolate in a medium saucepan on medium heat, stirring constantly (about 6 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature (about 15 minutes).

Stir sugar into cooled chocolate/butter mixture until combined.  Add in the eggs one at a time, whisking until smooth after each addition. Whisk in the vanilla. Gently fold in the flour and salt.  Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing the top with a knife. Bake for approx 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out *almost* clean.

While the brownies are baking, prepare peanut butter frosting layer. Using an electric handheld or stand mixer, cream the butter and peanut butter on medium speed until completely smooth and no more chunks of butter are visible.  Slowly mix in confectioners’ sugar, starting with just one cup.  Add more confectioners’ sugar if needed.  You want a very thick frosting layer.  I used about 1.5 cups.

Once brownies are done in the oven and completely cooled (about 1 hour of cooling time), frost with peanut butter frosting.  Chop up your chocolate covered pretzels and layer them on top of the frosting, gently pressing them down so that they stick.  Refrigerate brownies for about 30-60 minutes until the frosting “sets” on top of the brownies.  Cut into squares and enjoy!


slow cooker chicken chili


I've never been huge on homemade chili, but I absolutely adore Wendy's chili. I know it's probably totally lame for me to admit that, but come on! It's super cheap (I think it's $1.29 for a small), reasonably healthy, and totally filling. And if you factor in that there's a Wendy's just down the street from my house, well, I've got a problem. Lately we've been really buckling down and trying to eliminate fast food/eating out from our budget (except for special occasions), and so the fast food chili had to go. Luckily I found this great copycat recipe on Lulu the Baker! I made a few tweaks to suit my preferences, let it cook in the crockpot all afternoon, and by evening had a delicious dinner. Lizzy slurped all of hers down, and Abby even consented to taking some bites of beans and chicken, although she wouldn't touch any of the vegetables. Geoff and I both loved it too, so I'll be adding it to the list of family favorites!
Slow Cooker Chicken Chili
adapted from Lulu the Baker

1 lb ground chicken
2 8 oz cans tomato sauce
1 14.5-oz can kidney beans, drained
1 14.5-oz can pinto beans, drained
1 small diced onion
1/4 cup diced celery
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoons cumin
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoons salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 cups water

Brown ground chicken over medium heat. Add to slow cooker along with all other ingredients. Cook on low for 4-6 hours, and serve with cheese, sour cream, and tortilla strips.



Carmelitas! The best cookie you will ever make. Each bite is an delicious balance of gooey caramel, chocolate chips, and crunchy and sweet cookie!

Carmelitas! The best cookie you will ever make. Each bite is an delicious balance of gooey caramel, chocolate chips, and crunchy and sweet cookie!

I saw these on Pinterest a few months ago with the caption "carmelitas: the best cookie you will ever make" and I scoffed a little. I mean, really, how can you say that any cookie is "the best"? And then I made them, and I realized why. Because they really are the very best cookies I've ever made! Sure, they're very rich, and not something I could make every day, or even more than a couple of times every year, but they are amazing! Each bite is an delicious balance of gooey caramel, chocolate chips, and crunchy and sweet cookie. And the best part? They're super easy to make! They were the perfect treat to celebrate my (hopefully productive) job interview yesterday afternoon. I'm definitely adding them to the short list of special occasion treats. Seriously, make them, and you won't be disappointed!

Lulu the Baker 

32 caramel squares, unwrapped (I used caramel bits instead)
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 and line an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 pan with foil or parchment. Add the caramels and cream to a small saucepan over low heat. Heat, stirring frequently, until completely smooth, then set aside. In a separate bowl, combine melted butter, brown sugar, flour, oats, and baking soda. Pat half of the oatmeal mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Bake 10 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips over crust. Pour the caramel mixture over the chocolate chips. Crumble the remaining oatmeal mixture over the top of the caramel. Return the pan to the oven and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before cutting.


crunchy caramel corn


Can you believe I've never made caramel corn before? I know! I can't either! I had no idea it was so easy and simple to make. Geoff's never been a big caramel corn fan, although I'm totally nuts for it, so really the only time I get to eat it is when the neighbors give us some for Christmas. There appear to be two camps when it comes to caramel corn: the gooey, sticky camp, and the crunchy camp. I have decided that I am firmly entrenched in both camps. So pretty much, if it has caramel and popcorn, count me in. Geoff, as I have discovered, is clearly in the crunchy camp. And being that he had only ever had soft caramel corn before, he was less than impressed with it. After a few bites of this popcorn, he was totally hooked! It's definitely on the crunchy side, but it you don't like that, you could shorten the baking time, or skip it all together. Either way, make this popcorn!
Caramel Corn
Life {Made} Simple

½ c. unpopped pop corn
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 c. brown sugar, packed
¼ c. light corn syrup
2 tsp. molasses
½ c. butter
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. vanilla bean paste (or extract)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Generously spray or butter one rimmed baking sheet, set aside. In a cold large dutch oven or stock pot with a lid, add oil and pop corn kernels. Coat kernels with oil and turn on heat to medium. Once the first kernel pops (around 2-3 minutes after turning the heat on), place the lid on. Once the kernels have popped and you only hear one every few seconds, remove the pot from the heat. Pour the popcorn into a large mixing bowl (you want extra room to stir).

In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, butter and salt. Bring to a simmer (or a slow boil), stirring often. You'll know the mixture is ready when it reads 250 degrees on a candy thermometer (it will take 5 to 6 minutes).

Remove from heat, whisk in the vanilla and baking soda. Pour the mixture over the popcorn and gently mix until all of the popcorn is coated (stir in peanuts if desired). Pour the coated popcorn onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading it out evenly.

Place in oven and bake for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Remove from oven, let pan cool on a wire rack for 25 minutes. When caramel corn has cooled, break up into chunks. Serve or store for up to one week.


cream of broccoli soup


A few months ago, a blog that I love (E Tells Tales) hosted a pen pal exchange. Anyone who so desired could give a little info about themselves, and then be matched up with a new friend. I was excited to do it, especially because I had been feeling a little disillusioned with how much of my interaction with friends was occurring online. It's actually very refreshing to sit down and write a real letter to a real person! It's even kind of fun that it takes a few weeks to get a letter back after I've sent one. It makes each letter feel more legitimate, somehow. My pen pal, Lexie, and I have a lot in common. We're both Harry Potter freaks, both into nursing (she's getting ready for nursing school and I'm an RN), and (best of all!) we both love to cook! With her last letter, she sent me the recipe for this cream of broccoli soup, and I couldn't wait to try it.

I love that all the ingredients are simple things that I almost always have in the house, and it is so quick and easy to make. At the same time, the flavor is incredible! I served it with some artisan bread from my favorite grocery store (seriously, their bakery is amazing) and we couldn't stop dipping chunks of crusty bread into our soup. The only change I made was to add a little cheese to the soup (because, you know, I'm like that).
Cream of Broccoli Soup
Lexie G.

2 T butter
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery
3 cups chicken broth
8 cups broccoli florets
3 T butter
3 T flour
2 cups milk

Melt 2 T butter in a medium sized stock pot. Sauté onion and celery with butter until tender. Add broccoli and broth, cover, and simmer ten minutes. Pour soup into blender (no more than halfway full!) or use an immersion blender to puree until smooth. In a small (separate) saucepan, melt 3 T butter over medium heat. Stir in flour and milk. Stir until thick and bubbly and add to soup. Season as you like and serve!


thank you!

Lately I've had some features on some really great blogs, and I just wanted to give a shout out to them and say thank you! It's been so amazing watching my blog grow and having the opportunity to interact with so many wonderful bloggers. The blogging community is awesome!

My classic baguettes were featured on Or So She Says...

and my classic baguettes were featured again on 30 Handmade Days

I'd also like to send some love to all my new followers on Facebook and Google Friend Connect! I'm so happy to see all of you stop by, and I love each and every comment. Thank you for making The Baker Upstairs a fun place to be!